Peak(s):  Culebra Peak  -  14,047 feet
Red Mtn A  -  13,908 feet
Date Posted:  08/07/2020
Date Climbed:   07/31/2020
Author:  Paul M
 Culebra and Red Mountain, 7/31/20   

On this trip to Colorado, I rented a 4WD vehicle and planned to climb three 14ers which would be made easier by having access to 4WD trailheads. First up, after having a few days to get used to the higher altitude, was Culebra Peak. Culebra is privately owned and requires prior reservations and a climbing fee. I reserved my spot way back in May for July 31, which happens to be the very last day the ranch had the peak opened to climbers this year. Be sure to reserve early.

When I got to the ranch, my name was somehow not on the list. The ranch hands, who were super nice and helpful, admitted that sometimes people's names get left off. I showed them the receipt they texted me and they added me to the list right away. Be sure to have a copy of your receipt handy just in case the same thing happens to you!

Once you enter the ranch, you'll drive to the ranch HQ for a quick meeting. Any car can make the drive to the HQ building. The road is dirt but very smooth. Beyond that, however, you will need a 4WD to continue. The road isn't a terribly rough 4WD road. The roughest / steepest part is between the HQ and the junction called Four Way (which is clearly marked with a sign). If you get to Four Way, you'll make it to the upper trailhead. From the upper trailhead, it's less than 2 1/2 miles to the summit.

View from the upper trailhead

From the 4WD trailhead, the first half of the hike goes up a grassy hill to the ridge. The second half follows the rocky ridge and is mostly class 2. Despite what you may think, the first half is by FAR the more difficult. The grassy hill looks easy, but is much taller and much steeper than it looks. Most of your elevation gain is right here.

Looking up the initial hill. Much more tiring than it looks.
Closer to the ridge, looking back down.

There are no trails on Culebra, so pick your own route to the top. You may want to angle right, since that is the direction you'll be moving along the ridge once you get up there. As you climb, keep looking behind you to make certain that you'll be able to find the trailhead on the descent later. You may also want to make you own switchbacks back and forth across the slope to keep the steepness down. The distance of this climb is short, so adding some distance isn't going to make it particularly harder.

The huge cairn, with Culebra's false summit behind it. Turn right from here.

Once you reach the top of the initial hill, you'll emerge on the ridge near this huge cairn, which is the only marker on this trail. It will be helpful on the descent to remind you where you need to leave the ridge. You'll turn right and the route should be crystal clear. The high point you see ahead is actually a false summit, but the true summit is right behind it.

The terrain at the start of the ridge

A view of most of the rest of the route to the summit.

The ridge may look tougher, but as long as you're OK with class two scampering, it's much easier than the steep hill you've already climbed up. The ridge is not as steep and the scrambling is simple and solid.

Part of the ridge

View from the route

Clouds are rolling in

Another amazing view from the ridge

There is plenty of wildlife on this route: here's a marmot.

...And here's a pika who wasn't too shy with people.

You'll hike over the false summit that you've been seeing since you reached the ridge, and the true summit is just beyond it.

Approaching the summit

On the summit!

Someone brought a sign and was kind enough to let me use it.

After reaching Culebra, you can turn back. OR you can continue on to Red Mountain, a 13er that is one of Colorado's 100 highest peaks. The only way to reach Red is by climbing over Culebra, so it's now or never.

Looking over towards Red mountain.

Red is just under a mile south of Culebra, and the route there is easy to see from Culebra. Just follow the connecting ridge, skirting around the bump in the middle to save yourself some elevation gain. There's nothing particularly difficult about Red, but adding it does add about 2 miles, 1000 feet of elevation gain, and slightly more difficult class 2 movement. I wasn't very tired upon reaching Culebra's summit, but adding Red turns the day into a much longer, more strenuous hike. There was a faint path leading up the steep side of Red to its summit.

Views on the way over to Red

Nearing Red's summit, looking back at Culebra

On Red's summit

I wasn't the only one who wanted to check out Red as well!

Starting back down towards Culebra

There's plenty of wildlife on these peaks. Besides lots of marmots, birds, and pikas, while traversing the ridge back to Culebra I came upon a black bear! It was on the saddle just past the bump, and we startled each other when I came around the bump. The bear immediately took off down the slope, and I wasn't able to get a picture.

From Red, all there is to do is turn back. (As of now, your fee for Culebra covers Red as well, but those are the only places you're allowed to climb.) Note that you don't have to climb all the way back over Culebra's summit: You can save yourself some elevation gain by contouring across the side of the peak and aiming for the low point of the ridge between Culebra and its false summit. This is what I did, and I'm not sure that it was any easier. Yes, it saved some elevation gain, but it was also tougher class 2+ / 3- scrambling.

Either way, retrace your steps to the huge cairn, then descend the grassy hill back to the parking area. The hill, again, looks easy but is so steep that it's even tiring to walk down it.

Looking back down the hill at the end of the day.

Culebra is one of the tougher 14ers to plan since you have to plan well in advance and pay a fee to the landowners. However, the trailless path is beautiful, the wildlife abundant, and the views incredible. It's also a relatively quick, easy 14er if you can drive to the upper trailhead.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Good job
10/15/2020 12:02
Nice work, how much was the fee and what were the other 14ers you did on that trip?

Paul M

10/15/2020 23:04
Hi, the ranch charges $150 for the chance to climb Culebra and Red. I also climbed Uncompahgre and Snowmass. For Uncompahgre, I drove up the rough 4WD road to the upper Nellie Creek trailhead and that makes the hike ~7 miles. As far as 14ers go, Culebra and Uncompahgre are both on the easier side. Snowmass is much tougher, both the drive and the climb! I drove from Marble through Crystal and up the hill to the Lead King Basin trailhead, then scrambled up Snowmass' west face.

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